Advertising is always about capitalism, not support.
I was going to write something light and fluffy this week (don’t worry I have the fluffy thing for next week!), but then I was scrolling through my facebook feed while breastfeeding my tired, crabby, teething, infant, and I saw this:
It’s a post from the It Gets Better Campaign, sharing a Washington Post article about TEH GAYS in commercials. It’s supposed to be uplifting. It’s supposed to be progress. It’s so inspiring! I mean, ten years ago you couldn’t have gotten away with a movie tie-in soup commercial featuring two dads! Isn’t this progress?
I have kind of a lot of feelings about this. Let’s just dive right in.
First of all, we need to talk about the language used by It Gets Better, versus the language used by the Washington Post. It Gets Better says that these companies “embraced LGBT community with advertising” whereas Washington Post says these advertisers “embraced gay people.” Why does that matter to me? Because there is a fucking difference between what “LGBT community” means and what “gay people” means, and I’m sick as fuck of the most privileged, insulated members of the LGBT community acting like there isn’t.
So who exactly are they embracing? (I keep picturing ad execs hugging queers, it’s awkward.) Mostly white, able bodied, cisgender, monogamously partnered, gay men. A couple of lesbians. I mean, a couple of white, able bodied, cisgender, monogamously partnered, congenitally attractive, lesbians. These are the gay people who get embraced. There are two more fucking letters in that acronym up there, but you wouldn’t fucking know it when people use “LGBT community” in that way.
Secondly, let’s talk about the nature of that awkward embrace. These commercials may be cute, they may be funny, they may even be inspiring! There is a chance that they may change your homophobic Aunt Rhonda’s mind. I mean, I guess even homos buy soup, so I guess that “Same Love” song was right after all! But regardless of all that, that isn’t why these companies, and the advertising companies they hired to make these ads, chose to go with gay people in their ads.
Sit down, I’m about to blow your mind.
They did it to make money. Capitalism is all about growth and profits, just like in The Lorax. These companies need to keep growing. If they are featuring gay people in their advertising, it’s for two reasons. One, they see gay people as a potentially profitable group of consumers to target, and want to market directly to them in order to get them to buy their products. Two, they know that the (much larger) demographic of straight liberals freaking love the “feel good” experience of seeing clean happy homes on screen, and also love the feeling they get from supporting companies that they see as supporting gay rights. There is almost nothing a neoliberal enjoys more than pretending that buying something is an act of goodness that proves that they are a good person! Look, organic vegetables! Look, .00003 percent of my purchase goes to help breast cancer research and/or awareness! Look, TYLENOL likes fags now!
It’s a little bit complicated, because just like intent isn’t magic when someone does something shitty, it isn’t the only thing that matters in cases like these. Even though TYLENOL’s purposes are definitely not “awe, we just wanna help queers, ya know?” it is entirely possible greater gay visibility could change some homophobes minds and benefit some gay people (as long as they’re white, able bodied, monogamous, cisgender, attractive, gay people!). But I’m not about to bake them a batch of ally cookies for it, ok?
Third, let’s please not pretend like capitalism isn’t evil just because we (hey, I’m a relatively privileged gay!) got treated decently for a second. Sweatshops are still a thing. Global capitalism is still killing us all, in all the same ways it was in 2014.
And also, while there are things that I like about It Gets Better, the fact that they are constantly buying into this kind of shit is a fucking problem. Its not really surprising, since it was started by his holiness Dan Savage, a white gay man who is so thoroughly invested in ignoring his own level of privilege it is sometimes unfathomable. I do think that encouraging LGBTQIA (look Dan, I used all the letters and I didn’t even sprain a finger! Imagine!) teens to not kill themselves, and reminding them that they likely have the option of a a better future, is good and important work to be doing. That’s why when the serious shit talking about It Gets Better starts I’m all like “awe c’mob guys…”
But very very often, It Gets Better falls into the camp of reassuring the most privileged among us that, never fear, we may one day be able to attain an even higher level of privilege! There is nothing wrong with caring about white, cisgender, gay, teenage boys who feel hopeless and need some help. I think we should care about those kids. Some of them are in really awful positions, and they really need our help and support. But when It Gets Better’s primary focus is “you will one day attain the level of privilege and purchasing power to leave your small town/abusive family/etc!” that’s a pretty major problem because, well, that particular kind of better isn’t coming for a lot of LGBTQIA people. I’m among the more relatively privileged queers out there, but even for me that equation only kind of works. Yes, we have choices in our lives, and oftentimes more as we get older, but forces like global capitalism also limit many of our choices. My working class background, and my status as a woman, mean that my earning potential is much lower than that of a white man (but I do have the privilege of being white). Under capitalism, money is power. I may not be able to move to a blue state, for example. And what is It Gets Better saying to gay teens working in Chinese factories to produce the goods we love to buy? That’s right, it’s not saying anything to them. What could it possibly say to them, when the message is “better living through capitalism.”
And now it’s patting these capitalists on the back for acknowledging and “embracing” us, and I just cannot even with this bullshit. In a world filled with oppression, thanking the oppressors for being a little nicer to us while they gleefully oppress others, it makes me a little nauseous.
UPDATE: While I was working on this in-between baby-wrangling activities, Autostraddle did a piece on the same topic. Of course theirs is way more nuanced than the Washington Post piece! I love you autostraddle, please let me write gay things about cats and babies for you for money.